Blast Radius of GitHub Breach Major Security Concern

The extent to which software supply chains may be compromised in the wake of a security breach disclosed by GitHub may include thousands of organizations.

GitHub has revealed that unauthorized parties compromised OAuth user tokens maintained by Heroku, an arm of Salesforce that provides a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) environment, and Travis CI, a provider of a continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) ) platform. GitHub has since disconnected the third-party applications that were employing those tokens to access repositories but how much any code might have been exfiltrated or, worse yet, modified may not be known for weeks.

“There’s a lot of directions this could take,” said Mitch Ashley, principal researcher for Techstrong Research, an arm of Techstrong Group, which owns “This is an attack against an authentication mechanism.”

In fact, the full extent of the blast radius of the breach may never be known unless every organization employing Heroku or Travis CI platforms discloses whether their software supply chains were breached. GitHub has also yet to provide any timeline for the extent of the breach, so no one affected yet knows how far-reaching an investigation should be launched or how long it could take to discover malicious code that may have been injected into applications, noted Brian Soby, CTO at AppOmni, a provider of a platform that provides visibility into platform configurations.

“We don’t know yet when this occurred,” he said. “This could have a big blast radius.”

In the meantime, the GitHub disclosure will only intensify security reviews of software supply chains, which have begun in earnest in the wake of a series of high-profile breaches that started with an incident involving an IT service management platform provided by SolarWinds.

In the case of the latest GitHub breach, security professionals are surmising that developers hard-coded tokens into applications accessing GitHub to make it easier to access repositories. “Developers are lazy,” said Demi Ben-Ari, CTO for Panorays, a provider of a platform for evaluating third-party security risks. “They like to take shortcuts.”

Some organizations in the wake of the attack may move to distribute source code across repositories from multiple vendors as part of any effort to better secure their intellectual property, noted Ben-Ari.

Organizations also may decide to rely on code repositories that are not accessed via the cloud. However, given the need to integrate disparate services across a software supply chain, there is no guarantee that an organization with a repository running in an on-premises IT environment wouldn’t be affected by a similar attack.

On the plus side, as more organizations become aware of the threat vector employed to compromise the GitHub repositories, the level of awareness for implementing best DevSecOps practices should increase. The challenge, of course, remains bridging the technical and cultural divides that often result in developers not following best security practices when building and deploying applications. However, as the number of incidents continues to mount, more organizations are beginning to appreciate just how easy it is for the code they are relying on to engage customers and suppliers to be tampered with or outright stolen.

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